I often ask myself that too. Especially on “Adult nite” (Thursday),
which is like a singles bar — except that there’s no booze allowed and they play too much Motley Crue and everyone’s on quads (old-skool rollerskates, not designer drugs).

You’ll run into a wide variety of people at a roller-skating rink – literally! That’s probably why these rinks are still popular with the swingers who first came here in the 70s, when most USA rinks were built. Interestingly, most people who come here nowdays still look and act like it’s the 70s, especially the teens – who wouldn’t have been around for it the first time obviously, but who have somehow channelled that vibe : cheap glamour, endless flirtation, silliness, bellbottoms…

Rink skating is not so much “skating” as it is “avoiding”: when you skate indoors, you need to be a bit paranoid. There are fifty other people on the rink with you, and three fourths of them have never skated before (so they don’t know how to stop or steer). The other fourth are such good skaters that they’re bored with going round and round, so would rather go unexpectedly sideways — usually when you’re trying to pass them from behind. Ouch! But it’s a rare moment when a good skater actually loses balance. Most can twist themselves out of nearly any hazard.

And that’s the sad part. Seems that the better skater you are, the less interaction you’ll have with other skaters: you’ll be skating too fast for conversations; you’ll intimidate beginners just by donning your custom gear – and you’ll rarely fall down (providing fewer opportunities for someone who fancies you to help you back to your feet again — one of skating’s sweetest, most genuine gestures).

Oh, and about that falling down thing: you will do it at least once, no matter how good of a skater you are – so it’s best to dress for it. You won’t see the pros in low-rise pants ever. Low-rise is the height of fashion now, but if you fall in them, they will fall from you. (Trust me, you don’t want your thong displayed so prominently when there’s this many digital cameras milling about!)

Different subsets come to the rink on different days: on weeknights before dinner, it’s kiddie birthday parties and elementary school fundraisers, so I hear Destiny’s Child and Blink 182 a lot. Young kids only seem to like (or request) about different five bands. After that, we’re all at the mercy of those crusty party standards like “Chicken Dance”, “Macarena” and “The Hokey Cokey” … (sigh).

Kids are somewhat snobbish and cruel at these times — they bring their two hundred dollar inlines from home, and spend more time teasing (anyone wearing helmets, pads or quads) then they actually spend skating. Boys skate alone and aggressively, but girls huddle together like geese, making it impossible for someone who’s a faster skater to skate between them. Every so often, one girl whispers something, and then they all burst into giggles or excited screams. I’m wise to them now: I know they’ve got the hots for the referee who looks like Mike Hutchence. When I skate by, I often overhear them daring each other to do something “bad” to get his attention — maybe even get him to whistle at them, or lecture them personally by the side of the rink.

Late in the evening on weeknights, after the kids have gone home, the crowd thins down to just a dozen hard-core skaters — most of them in their thirties and forties, almost all of them on customized quads (except for the fifty-year-old who leaps about on his in-lines like a ballerina). These “regulars” like to skate backwards, sideways, concentrating on their form and footwork — always staring at each other, seldom speaking, always trying to figure out someone else’s moves. If you go out onto the rink late night like this, you’ll be scrutinized, too. Not only for your moves, but also for your shoes. Rented skates tell them you haven’t been “serious” for long — but if your form’s ok, then they might mumble a little praise when they see you in the food court next time. This crowd prefers time-tested tunes — familiar songs with slow, sturdy beats, tunes that they did routines to when they entered contests, tunes that they are now requesting over and over so that they can teach their moves to others.

Do not go late night if you don’t want to hear “You Dropped A Bomb On Me” or “Billie Jean” at least twice.

“Adult Nite” attracts some of these good skaters too, but often has a more desperate vibe. People show up in Hooters and Spanky’s t-shirts, comparing their tattoos and piercings while ranting about their disfunctional ex-spouse(s). Then the Deadheads wink at the Surfers who wink back, and they all leave at once for the parking lot. When they come back, they’re smiling and their clothes reek of pot. Adult nite music is heavy metal — with the occasional Soft Cell song thrown in by a desperate DJ. Heavy metal generally isn’t good to skate to — it’s too fast — but AC/DC is the one exception.

Saturday night is when the gang-bangers come out to skate. They usually hog the floor, even though they’re rarely good skaters. Once on the floor, they do a lot of pushing (both kinds) — usually only at each other, but with large enough gestures that those skating nearby sometimes get caught in a ricochet. Music then is mostly gangsta-rap (as difficult to skate to as metal is), but sometimes the dj slips a diva into the mix, and that’s when everyone else who was complaining to him about the rap stuff lightens up and goes back to the floor.

Then later that night, teen-agers pile in from the amusement park nearby, dragging their cliques behind them. That’s the worst time to skate — too much shoving and smooching — you’ll get elbowed in the ribs or face. That’s usually the time when I give my skates back to the ref behind the desk and call it a night …

To be honest, skating rinks are pretty funky places — and sometimes scary too — but I’d rather go there than to a proper gym. The music’s quirkier, crowd watching’s more fun, and since there’s so many distractions, it just doesn’t dawn on you how hard you’ve worked-out —

— until the next day.
When you up with sore muscles.
In yesterday’s clothes.
On the downstairs couch.

Stripey, October 2002